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  • Jeff Somers 7:30 pm on 2017/11/09 Permalink
    Tags: , , murder on the orient express, ,   

    10 Absolutely Essential Agatha Christie Novels 

    Tomorrow, Kenneth Branagh’s adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express chugs into theaters with a full head of steam, and naturally, there’s been an accompanying surge of interest in the source material—perhaps the most famous of mystery master Agatha Christie’s long and stories career.

    But then, when aren’t millions of people obsessing over the fiendish cases concocted by the Grand Dame of mysteries? Every day, someone discovers her for the first time. After all, to read one Christie book is to want to read them all. Christie was a genius. She played fair with the reader even as she constructed diabolical plots loaded with so many plausible red herrings and misdirections, it’s often impossible to predict whodunnit it on your first read.

    Ah, but those first reads are glorious. If you’ve never read a Christie novel before, or if you’re simply looking to read for the cream of the crop, here are our picks for the 10 Agatha Christie books every mystery buff simply must read.

    The Murder of Roger Akroyd
    Still the greatest twist ever in the history of mystery stories, bar none. The controversy over whether Christie plays fair with the reader rages to this day—but anyone arguing that she doesn’t is just dealing with sour grapes after having their mind blown, because a reread will demonstrate that Christie never cheats with this story of a wealthy widower who is murdered in a small English town. Anyone unspoiled reader who claims to guess who the killer is before the final reveal is almost certainly lying.

    The ABC Murders
    Christie was still experimenting with form in this 1936 novel, mixing first- and third-person narration to add new levels of twisty complexity. Her legendary Inspector Hercule Poirot receives three letters detailing the serial murders of people whose initials are A.A., B.B., and C.C., and the race is on to solve the riddle before the fourth victim is killed. Containing one of the most audacious red herrings in mystery history, this novel’s solution establishes a trope Christie more or less invented, and is still used to this day by writers seeking to throw readers off the scent.

    Murder on the Orient Express
    One of Christie’s most famous novels for a reason, it remains a part of modern pop culture for two reasons: one, the devious twist behind the solution to the murder, and two, the sumptuous descriptions of a train ride, and a lifestyle long vanished from the world (while there are still train rides labeled “Orient Express,” they are mere recreations for tourists). It’s was a slower, more elegant world (assuming you had the money), and long before CSI came along to put the brilliant detectives like Poirot out of business—but in the end, it’s that absolutely amazing twist that makes this such an incredible read, even today.

    And Then There Were None
    It’s a simple premise: eight people are invited to a remote island under various pretenses, trapped there, and murdered one-by-one as punishment for past crimes they’d seemingly gotten away with. The result is widely regarded as Christie’s best book, and is today the most popular mystery novel of all time, with more than 100 million copies sold. Christie also named this book the most difficult of her novels to plan and write, which makes perfect sense once you’ve discovered the solution. The level of intricacy involved in pulling this one off makes it an absolute must-read.

    Hercule Poirot, the fussy, fearless Belgian detective who was Christie’s greatest creation, meets his final case. Although Christie’s writing had suffered a serious decline by the time this novel was published (just a year before her death), it’s one of her strongest works, with a twist that catches every Poirot fan off guard. This may be because Christie actually wrote it 30 years before, when she worried that World War II might, well, kill her. She wrote Poirot’s last case—setting it in the same location as his first—and locked it in a vault, bringing it out only when she knew she had no more novels in her.

    Death on the Nile
    One of Christie’s twistiest puzzles is set during a holiday in Egypt, where Hercule Poirot meets a couple being stalked by the husband’s former lover. The couple books a cruise down the Nile to escape the woman, but she follows (as does Poirot). Several murders are committed on board, including the murder of the unfortunate wife. As each crime occurs, the sense of danger and paranoia increases to a level almost impossible to withstand. It seems impossible it will all fit together in any sort of sane way—but once again, Christie proves to be smarter than all of us.

    Endless Night
    Probably the last really good book Christie wrote before her natural decline took away her genius, this is also the novel Christie herself named her favorite. Published in 1967, it’s a dark story that puts the detection in the background, as the crime is revealed to the reader only partway through. Instead, it’s a fascinating study of greed, guilt, and desperation that proves beyond a doubt that Christie was not only a great designer of mysteries, but a flat-out great writer.

    Peril at End House
    Another Poirot adventure, this one finds him investigating a series of crimes at a country estate called End House, and pivots on one of Christie’s smartest misdirections. Let’s just say always you have to be on guard against your own assumptions when reading Christie. This is one of those books where the solution almost makes everything seem too obvious—if not for the fact that, a few pages before the reveal, the atmosphere was tense with mystery, and finding the truth seemed nearly impossible.

    The Mysterious Affair at Styles
    The very first Hercule Poirot case (and Christie’s first published novel overall) is also one of her best, a story that captures a long-gone time and place—in this case, England, immediately following World War I]. A classic mystery setup sees a wealthy woman poisoned, and Poirot, a recent refugee from Belgium, called on by a friend to assist in solving the crime. As Christie’s first novel, it’s a little more concerned with scene setting and description than some of her more efficient later works, but it’s a satisfying mystery all the same, and introduces one of the greatest detective characters of all time.

    The Murder at the Vicarage
    In the first novel to feature Christie’s other famous detective, Miss Marple, someone everyone in town wanted dead turns up murdered, and there is not one but two confessors to the crime. Miss Marple is a fantastic creation—a seemingly mild, unexceptional old woman whose keen intellect catches clues others miss and makes deductive leaps others would never dream of. The determined, gentle pressure of her investigative techniques eventually bring out the truth—which is naturally something Christie made very plain, but which readers almost always misconstrue. It’s a classic.

    The post 10 Absolutely Essential Agatha Christie Novels appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

  • Molly Schoemann-McCann 10:00 am on 2017/09/29 Permalink
    Tags: , , , felix francis, , , , , murder on the orient express, , , , pulse, sarah bailey, , the dark lake, , , the witches' tree: an agatha raisin mystery,   

    October’s Best New Mysteries 

    Fall has officially begun, and if there’s a better time of year to kick back with an absorbing whodunit, we’d like to hear about it…right after we finish this chapter. Mystery lovers of all stripes will find something to keep them up late at night in the following collection of brand-new must-reads, which features everything from potboilers to cozy mysteries, and both modern and classic authors. Dig in, gumshoes!

    Pulse, by Felix Francis
    Dr. Christine Rankin, the complex and troubled narrator of Francis’ newest thriller, is pushed over the edge when a well-dressed man who was found unconscious at the local racetrack dies while under her care. No one can account for the man, and the mystery of his identity sends her into an obsessive spiral into discovering his identity—a secret that someone very dangerous is eager to protect. A fascinating story by an author at the top of his game.

    The Dark Lake, by Sarah Bailey
    Rosalind Ryan’s transcendent beauty made her a legend in her small rural town, but many years later, it also made her a target. As an adult Rosalind returned to Smithson High School to teach drama, and when she turns up in a local lake, dead of strangulation, it falls to lead homicide investigator Gemma Woodstock to solve the mystery of her murder. Except Gemma is a former classmate of Rosalind’s, and unraveling the puzzle of Rosalind’s strange and lonely existence stirs up Gemma’s own murky, questionable past.

    Mrs. Jeffries and the Three Wise Women, by Emily Brightwell
    Christopher Gilhaney seems to have made enemies at a recent Guy Fawkes Night dinner party—judging by the fact that he was shot dead later that night. Granted, he did spend the evening insulting every guest in attendance, to the mortification of hostess Abigail Chase. The mystery of Christopher’s murder, which is suspected to be related to a botched robbery, remains unsolved six weeks later, and Inspector Witherspoon’s expertise is called upon. But the holidays are approaching, and Witherspoon and his household at large are concerned that their holiday plans are at risk of being interrupted. Can they put this one to bed, or will the truth forever elude them?

    The Best American Mystery Stories, by John Sandford
    This riveting, carefully-curated short story collection is perfect for readers looking for high-octane, bite-sized tales that pack a serious punch. Fans of well-known authors of longer works, from C.J. Box to Joyce Carol Oates, will be delighted to discover that their talents are no less impressive in shorter formats. If you’ve got a busy month ahead of you, this best-of collection is the perfect go-to for short bursts of well-written and deliciously enigmatic stories.

    Murder on the Orient Express, by Agatha Christie
    A famous train is immobilized in a snowdrift, and in the morning one of the passengers, millionaire Samuel Edward Ratchett, is found stabbed to death in his compartment (which was locked from the inside). Fortunately another of the passengers is incomparable detective Hercule Poirot, whose “little grey cells” are on the case as the clock ticks down to the next murder. One of the most famous, beloved, and widely-read mystery novels by a master of the genre, if you haven’t yet read Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, now is the perfect time to experience it—just in time for Kenneth Branagh’s film adaptation, which hits theaters November 20.

    The Witches’ Tree: An Agatha Raisin Mystery, by M. C. Beaton
    Driving home from a dinner party in the village of Sumpton Harcourt, the new vicar and his wife come upon a body hanging from a tree. It belongs to an elderly spinster named Margaret Darby, and the general suspicion in the village is that the cause of death was murder, and not suicide. Agatha Raisin is happy to be on assignment (welcoming the distraction from her woeful personal life), but when two more victims turn up, the case grows more urgent—and more dangerous. And it certainly doesn’t help that Sumpton Harcourt’s residents are tightlipped when it comes to prying investigations…and it’s also home to a coven of witches.

    The Usual Santas: A Collection of Soho Crime Christmas Capers, by Peter Lovesy
    What do you get for the crime reader who has everything? How do you get your favorite armchair gumshoe into the holiday spirit? And where can you find 18 hilarious, chilling, and bizarre stories centering around suspicious mall Santas, mysterious dinner parties, and stolen diamonds? The answer to all of these questions (and so many more) is The Usual Santas, A Collection of Soho Crime Christmas Capers, an anthology featuring stories by some of your favorite Soho Press authors and their most unexpectedly twisted Christmas-themed tales.

    Parting Shot, by Linwood Barclay
    A young man swears he has no memory of stealing a Porsche and murdering a girl while inebriated—an act which devastated the small community of Promise Falls and unleashed a barrage of threats against his family. Against his better judgment, Cal Weaver reluctantly agrees to investigate the threats, but before long he finds himself sucked into a brutal quest for revenge.

    The Secret, Book & Scone Society, by Ellery Adams
    The first book in a new series that combines a few of everyone’s favorite things—books, baked goods, and deep, dark secrets. Nora Pennington resides in beautiful Miracle Springs, North Carolina, a place renowned for the healing properties of its hot springs. Nora owns Miracle books, and she has a talent for drawing out people’s stories about their lives—in exchange for her uncannily perfect book recommendations. When a businessman is found dead before he can keep his appointment with Nora, she forms the Secret, Book, and Scone Society, which gives members a place to turn for support and a feeling of camaraderie—as long as they first reveal their darkest secrets first. As the members of Nora’s club begin to investigate the businessman’s mysterious death, they discover a sense of community—along with some hidden dangers.

    What mysteries are keeping you up at night this fall?

    The post October’s Best New Mysteries appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

  • Ginni Chen 7:00 pm on 2014/09/08 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , , , , i know why the caged bird sings, , , murder on the orient express, , , , ,   

    Which Famous Author Should Be Your Roommate? 

    Ernest HemingwayIt’s well known that some of the world’s foremost literary geniuses have some peculiar personalities and strange writing habits. We all have our quirks, but for men and women of the quill, these quirks are writ especially large. Some are hard drinkers and partiers, some are recluses waiting for inspiration to strike, still others are wildly productive but beset by personal demons. Even if you love someone’s books, do you ever wonder if could you actually live with the artist behind them?

    Take this quiz and see which master wordsmith you should actually live with, and which might be a cohabitational nightmare. After all, there’s nothing like sharing a living space to help you really get know someone!

    1. You and your ideal famous author roommate are decorating.  What goes over the mantlepiece?
    a. Mounted antlers from the prize buck you shot.<
    b. A lavish 19th-century still-life painting of a bountiful feast.
    c. A typewriter and some detective novels.
    d. The first dollar you ever earned.
    e. Eclectic artwork collected from your travels.
    f. Ashtrays, empty bottles, pencil nubs, scrap paper.

    2. What best describes your ideal housewarming party?
    a. Grilling some meat, followed by bourbon, scotch, dry martinis, absinthe…
    b. A costume ball with a ten course meal and wine pairings.
    c. An afternoon garden party.
    d. A rollicking dinner party with an impromptu reading from your new book.
    e. A quiet gathering of friends with some good sherry and card games.
    f. Something fabulous, with celebrities, artists, socialites and lots of gin.

    3. It’s a random Tuesday night. You and your ideal roommate are:
    a. Sparring in boxing gloves.
    b. Living it up at the hottest restaurant in town.
    c. You have no idea where your roommate is. She disappeared a few days ago.
    d. Going for a long walk late into the night, hoping to get lost.
    e. Doing crossword puzzles.
    f. At the Plaza Hotel, holding court and gossiping with the jet-set crowd of New York.

    4. You don’t mind if your apartment is full of:
    a. Cats
    b. Mistresses
    c. Newspaper clippings of strange crimes
    d. I would mind if my apartment were full of anything. I’m kind of a neat freak.
    e. Books, art and good food.
    f. Cigarette smoke and famous people.

    5. What’s your work style?
    a. “Done by noon, drunk by three.” In other words, efficient in the morning and then, not so much.
    b. I work every spare second of the day on color-coded paper.
    c. In the bathtub, munching apples. Or wherever the mood strikes me.
    d. I’m always on the go. Walking helps me think.
    e. I prefer to work in an empty room with nothing no distractions.
    f. I can’t work unless I’m lying down, smoking and drinking.

    If you chose mostly A’s, you should live with…Ernest Hemingway.
    Nobel prize-winning author Ernest Hemingway was notoriously a “manly” man.  An accomplished outdoorsman, he went on big-game hunting safaris in Africa and won marlin-fishing contests in the Caribbean. A passionate boxer, Hemingway built his own boxing ring in his Key West home to spar with guests and friends. In between these activities, Hemingway woke early each day to meet his self-imposed quota of 500 words.  He wrote them standing up at his typewriter, and said he was always “done by noon, drunk by three.”

    If you chose mostly B’s, you should live with…Alexandre Dumas.
    The man behind The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo was an extravagant bon vivant, partial to elaborate feasts, wine and women. A gourmand and an accomplished cook, Dumas traveled extensively, hosted parties, entertained a string of mistresses and fathered many illegitimate children, yet he still managed to find time to write prolifically. He color-coded his writing on different kinds of paper, writing his fiction novels on blue paper, penning poetry on yellow paper and composing articles on pink.

    If you chose mostly C’s, you should live with…Agatha Christie.
    Best-selling mystery novelist Dame Agatha Christie, who penned Murder on the Orient Express and the play The Mousetrap, drew inspiration from newspaper articles about interesting true crimes. She’d clip them out and muse over them, eventually concocting an elaborate murder for Hercule Poirot or Miss Jane Marple to solve. She became the subject of a real life mystery herself when she abandoned her car and disappeared for 11 days. When found, Christie had no recollection of what she’d done and where she’d been. As a writer, Christie liked to think up her mysteries in the bathtub while eating apples. She wrote whenever the mood struck her and would set her typewriter down wherever she happened to be.

    If you chose mostly D’s, you should live with…Charles Dickens.
    Charles Dickens, author of classics such as Great Expectations and A Tale of Two Cities, rose to fame and fortune from a hard-scrabble childhood in poverty. Thought to have obsessive-compulsive disorder, Dickens was known for combing his hair over a hundred times a day, cleaning his home obsessively, and even cleaning the homes of his friends. A gregarious and witty man, Dickens excelled at public speaking and enjoyed giving public readings of his books. An insomniac, Dickens spent his nights walking for miles at a time, hoping that the process of getting lost would inspire his creative juices.

    If you chose mostly E’s, you should live with…Maya Angelou.
    The recently departed Maya Angelou, who wrote I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, freely shared her writing ritual with the world—she’d go to an empty hotel room every day, after requesting that the hotel staff remove any paintings, artwork or distractions from the room. She’d then stay in the room and write until 2 p.m. with only a Bible, a thesaurus, a bottle of sherry, a deck of cards and some crossword puzzles.  At 2 p.m., she would return home and edit her morning’s work. Unlike her sparse hotel room, Angelou’s home was filled with artwork and books collected from her travels. She was not only a decorated writer, but a talented cook, dancer, singer, actress, and a prominent civil rights activist.

    If you chose mostly F’s, you should live with…Truman Capote.
    The author of Breakfast at Tiffany’s and In Cold Blood was known for his star-studded social life, his grand parties and his lifelong friendship with To Kill a Mockingbird author Harper Lee. Capote famously threw the Black and White Ball, a masquerade ball at the Plaza Hotel that everybody who was anybody attended, unless Capote deliberately wanted to snub them. He ran with an eclectic mix of celebrities in New York, including actors, artists, socialites and business tycoons, but he was not partial to many fellow writers. Capote claimed to be a “completely horizontal author” and could only write lying down. He’d spend the day supine, drafting his work in longhand and in pencil, while armed with a cigarette and a drink. Even when writing on a typewriter, Capote preferred to remain horizontal and balance the machine on his knees.

    Which of your favorite authors would you like to live with? 

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